“Sailing came to me when I was feeling lost after National Service. I wanted to sign on as a commando with the Singapore army, but I got rejected because I didn’t have a diploma.

As I was cracking my head thinking about ways to meet the minimum entry requirements, I came across nautical studies. If I had to go back to school, I figured I was better off studying something really interesting, so I pursued my diploma at Wavelink Maritime Institute.

It’s funny. I used to hate maths and calculations, but because the Pythagoras’ theorem was important when we studied the stars, I enjoyed my studies and did really well. What others learnt in two years, we covered in six months, and that included going out to sea for training.

My family came down to bid me farewell on the day of my departure. They were sad to see me go, but I was honestly very excited to sail. I was getting paid to travel the world and see different places, and that’s not something everyone can do.

We sailed to many different ports to deliver cargo. Colombo was my home port, and I had a memorable time there. Sri Lankans will ask you where you’re from if you speak Tamil. When you say Singapore, they won’t believe you because they think all Singaporeans are Chinese.

Still, I really don’t mind bringing my family there for a holiday. The food is great and the tea is to die for. If you’re looking for rubies, diamonds and sapphire, Sri Lanka is the place to go.

The people are also friendly. People say there’s conflict between Hindus and Muslims in the city, but based on my observations when I was there, it was like having Little India and Arab Street side by side. People were working together, hand in hand.

But when you’re having such a great time, something bad is bound to happen, and unfortunately, I was one of the unlucky ones to witness death on board the vessel.

One day while we were out at sea, we found my second officer missing. He was supposed to report to our Chief Engineer in the engine room but he didn’t. When we broke open the door to his room, we found him flat on the floor.

I administered CPR, but his body was cold and his pupils were dilated. At the back of my head, I knew he was long gone. Responders eventually announced that he died of a heart attack. We had to wrap his body up and put it in the freezer until we reached Singapore.

He was only 32 then. During our last barbecue together, he said he was excited to go home because he was going to get married and pursue his studies. The next time we meet, he was going to be a Chief Engineer. Memories of him were overpowering sometimes.

It took me a while to get over that whole experience. I think it’s partially why I stopped sailing. Well, it’s also mostly because my mom wanted me to stop. She was the one who wanted me to pursue my dreams, but then she said she can’t be missing me for six months at a time.

But I do miss sailing. I saw a different sunrise and sunset every day. On certain nights, you even get to see planets like Venus, Jupiter and Mars in the sky. And the billions of stars; it’s like a blanket of stars. You’re all alone out in the open sea, and you realise this is what true independence feels like.” – JK, 30



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Arman Shah

A former travel writer with fond memories of solo adventures in Southeast Asia, Arman is now Founder of The Everyday People. He's also the co-host of Channel Empathy, a podcast about the marginalised in Singapore.